Vision Quest

By Anna Sachse

Posted December 3, 2009 in Mind Body Spirit

Only in SoCal would it feel appropriate to write a column about sunglasses anytime of the year, including the first week of December. This only partly has to do with the perpetual sunshine; the other reason is that this area is a hotbed for what my husband snidely refers to as “Fashion Goggles,” the trendy, often giant, either shiny or colorful, personality-defining sunglasses that local women (and probably men) are far more likely to wear than underpants. Britney Spears likes them big, black and bug-eyed, Nicole Richie is a fan of over-sized vintage versions, Kristen Stewart always wants her Wayfarers on and Brad Pitt is all about the aviators.


Of course, it isn’t just the celebrities. Us plebeians are also obsessed with hiding our eyes, and let’s be honest here—it isn’t really about blocking the sun. We wear them to look sexy/cool/stylish. 


That said, the problem is that SoCal really does have perpetual sunshine and most of us should be protecting our eyes better. According to the San Francisco-based American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), long-term exposure to UV radiation can contribute to the development of serious eye disease and damage, including macular degeneration (the leading cause of vision loss among older Americans), cataracts (a major cause of visual impairment and blindness around the world) and lesions and tumors on the eye (including cancer), which may simply be ugly or could require surgical removal. 


Luckily there are a lot of options out there for good sunglasses, and, double-luckily for all us poor folks, cost really has nothing to do with effectiveness. Next time you’re looking for chic-and-useful shades, keep an eye out for the following:



In accordance with guidelines established by the American National Standards Institute, only buy sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of UVB rays and at least 95 percent of UVA rays, says Dennis Robertson, M.D., an emeritus ophthalmologist at the Mayo Clinic. If it isn’t differentiated, stick with protection from 99 to 100 percent of all UV rays. Do not be tempted by pretty “wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing” glasses that are labeled “cosmetic” or that don’t provide a percentage.



Because UV coating itself is colorless, the color or darkness of your lenses has nothing to with their ability to protect your eyes. However, according to the AAO, each color has other qualities that you might like: Green offers some color contrast with little or no color distortion (best for multi-use); Gray provides flat color with no contrast or color distortion; Brown offers very high contrast and depth perception, but distorts color (optimum for object definition); Yellow is also ideal for object definition, but creates a harsh visible light; Vermillion helps define water from other objects, but has the worst color distortion; Blue is the best in snow because it counteracts white, but distorts other colors; and Red and Pink are best for computer eyestrain, but also cause color distortion. And remember, although darker-tinted lenses (or mirror-coating, for that matter) might help prevent squinting and glare in consistently bright conditions, the degree of darkness has nothing to do with the ability to block UV light.



Amber-tinted blue light-blocking lenses allegedly make distant objects appear more distinct, especially in snow, haze or low light; however, they can make it harder to discriminate the hues in traffic lights, and don’t necessarily provide adequate UV protection.



Polarized lenses are the best way to reduce reflected glare, making them useful for skiing, fishing and driving, but they have no relation to UV light absorption, so be sure to check labels.



Ideally, your sunglasses should wrap all the way around to your temples, protecting your peepers from every angle.












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